As the 1990s came to a close more and more people began to connect to the internet. The internet is an amazing resource for information. You can, like I did when writing these articles, find out in moments all about the amygdala. You can check for train timetables in Stockholm, or, quite literally look at the weather in Prague, or see what people think about the latest movie. You can also, of course, try to get that “inside information” on the latest gadgets you’re thinking of buying.
Indeed, researchers have discovered that for people with internet connections, the internet is the “go to” place for researching anything before you decide to purchase. Whether checking for movie reviews, or the latest digital camera, consumers get online and start googling.
For Amway (and Quixtar) for the past decade, this has not been a good thing.
Back in March 1996 a disgruntled former Amway distributor by the name of Ashley Wilkes began posting to a website he titled Amway Motivational Organizations (AMO’s): The Nightmare Builders. Two years earlier, his wife, who continued to be an Amway distributor, had divorced him, and he laid the blame squarely at the foot of the so-called “AMOs”. Not long after, other, similar sites began to appear, including Sidney Schwartz’s Amway: The Untold Story and later Scott Larsen’s Amway Distributor’s Little White Lies.
One of Amway’s early responses was threats of legal action against the site owners. Officially this action was part of an ongoing dispute with Proctor & Gamble. Amway had learned that P&G had paid Schwartz as a consultant on the case, and Amway apparently believed P&G may have had some other connection to the critical sites. The internet however was a hotbed of “freedom of information”, and the legal maneuvering was seen by many as nothing more than corporate bullying. This simply encouraged others to do what on the internet is surprisingly easy to do – copy and republish an entire website, a process called “mirroring“. Amway eventually succeeded in forcing Wilkes and Schwartz to close their websites, but by this time mirrors had appeared on literally dozens of internet servers around the world, including in locations not easily influenced by a legal approach. In addition they’d attracted the attention of internet freedom of speech activitists such as David Touretzky of Carnegie Mellon. Despite no personal experience with the Amway business, Touretzky launched yet another anti-Amway website.
The apparently successful attempts to close critical sites had simply made things worse.
Meanwhile, and reportedly at least partly in response to the increasing amount of “negative” about Amway on the internet, Amway began developing the new Quixtar opportunity. Many felt this may allow a “clean slate” for a new name and a new opportunity. Unfortunately, the internet rarely forgets, and folk leading the anti-Amway crusade on the ‘net quickly established the connection between Quixtar and Amway. Thus, anyone who searched the internet for Quixtar would learn of the connection and all of the “negative” Amway information.
Around this time, some Amway distributors, including myself in Australia and an American distributor by the name of James Eddy started to mount our own offensive. I began engaging in debates with Amway and Quixtar critics on UseNet, a then popular discussion forum, as well as launching a small pro-Amway website. James Eddy launched Amway Fact or Fiction: The Truth behind the Amway Enterprise (archive) and we both began to try to address the factual inaccuracies and exaggerations that the various critics sites were promoting. It was a losing battle however. Virtually by definition, as active Amway distributors also holding down jobs and running other businesses we had less time on our hands than the critics. Furthermore, at least on the ‘net, it seemed there were more critics than supporters. Why was this?
One reason was Amway’s rules. Amway has always had regulations against mass marketing of the Amway business opportunity, and they looked upon the internet in much the same way. As the launch of Quixtar approached, and indeed afterwards, there was a deal of paranoia about distributors, now called IBOs, sending out “spam” and making exaggerated or false claims that could put the company at legal risk. Amway rules required that all websites of Amway representatives must be approved by Amway and password protected. They actively contacted Amway IBOs who had launched websites on the internet and made them close their sites, reportedly shutting down hundreds of them.
At it’s peak, James Eddys’ AmwayFacts.com website was getting some 1500 visitors a day. In May 1999, despite the site not being used in anyway for recruiting, Amway made him shut it down. Not long after, for personal reasons unrelated to Amway, my own site too disappeared.
Amway had left the internet to the critics.
Over the years other sites came and went. Anyone with a negative experience could say what they want, virtually with impunity, whereas supporters of Amway, who for obvious reasons where much more likely to remain as IBOs, were effectively gagged. The corp made a few half-hearted attempts to post “positive” stories on the internet, such as amwaypages.com (archive), but with the merging of Amway North America into Quixtar these too faded into oblivion.
Quixtar was supposed to make things different.
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